After taking a flight with a friend who was a pilot, Charlie Gould was hooked.
Shortly thereafter in 1976, he found himself taking lessons and obtaining his credentials to follow in his friend’s footsteps. He flew for his own company for awhile, but as his business picked up, the opportunities to take to the air were few and far between.
In 2005, a friend who was severely burned introduced Gould to Angel Flight, a non-profit volunteer pilot organization that provides free air transportation by private aircraft to distant medical facilities.
“I didn’t really have a use for a plane … it really wasn’t anything I would use,” Gould said. “But then I called up the Angel Flight people, got signed up for it, went out and bought an airplane, and started flying planes for them.”
The Pensacola pilot will be recognized for the third year in a row as an honoree for the “Pilot of the Year” Award for the North Florida region, the highest honor for Angel Flight Southeast pilots.
“Our pilots may be scheduled to fly a local patient to medical appointments any day of the week, sometimes being called to fly in the middle of the night,” said Steve Purello, CEO of Angel Flight Southeast based in Leesburg in a written statement.
All Angel Flight pilots use their own aircraft and pay for their own fuel.
“Sometimes multiple flights are coordinated for both legs of the trip requiring precise timing with the pilots,” Purello said. “We are able to help save many lives because of the dedication and generosity of these volunteers.”
Gould, who has been flying for Angel Flight Southeast for nine years, flies a four-seat Beechcraft Baron and donates between 50 to 70 flights a year. He’s met many good people along the way.
One 4-year-old boy sticks in his mind — a little boy who needed a liver and heart transplant. So weak he couldn’t walk, Gould carried him while the boy’s mother wrestled with all of his belongings.
“Amazingly, they’re all happy,” Gould said. “They’re all very thankful for the service they get. They can’t thank you enough when they get out of the plane and everything is so positive. I just appreciate the attitude. That’s got to be, really, a tough thing to do.”
Gould, along with two others from the region, will be honored in April at the Dr. Norris Pilot Awards Gala for Angel Flight Southeast in West Palm Beach.
Gould has also been nominated for the “Transplant Award,” given to the pilot with the most number of transplant-related flights, and the “Above and Beyond” award, for pilots who assist with fundraising and non-flying volunteer efforts.
“I started, in the beginning, to do it because I like to fly and that gave me a purpose,” Gould said. “And then the more I did it, I began to enjoy the people and their problems and how they deal with them. And it gives me a good feeling — I feel good at the end of the day when I’ve done something like that for somebody.”